#Candles4hope

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From my mom, Terri.

I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. ~ Oath of Office for the President of the United States

I am so scared.

I have lived 70 years in a country in which I felt free to live my life, achieve what I worked for, practice my religion freely.   I knew that the United States was something special and that those in power knew it, too   There were good presidents and some not so good, but for the most part they were intelligent, informed, and concerned about the country and its people.  They understood the need to follow the constitution as a legacy from our very beginnings.  They realized that we are a great nation, but one of many that make up this world and we need to collaborate, not dictate.

In the last 9 days, it feels like an alternate universe.  “Alternative facts” not truth.  Closed borders.  Arguing over silly things like who had more people at the inauguration.  Pronouncements one day, that get altered the next because no one seems to speak with a background of knowledge or understanding.  It’s like a few of them read the Clif Notes, but no one bothers with the book.  Top appointments appear to be made not with experience in mind, but with billions in the bank as the priority.  White House spokespersons will lie, embellish, interrupt or bully to get their message out.  Rude attitudes as they tell their story, not the true story.  Anger at the legitimate press who are our means to clarity and are trying to help us understand.

I come from a blue state, and have a Democratic representative and 2 (women) Democratic US senators.  I am confused and concerned about how to  get my voice heard.

My husband is in a men’s fellowship group and they are reading a book by Ronald Rolheiser called The Hidden Longing.  He read this passage to me last night.

 “In South Africa, prior to the abolition of apartheid, people used to light a candle and place it in their windows as a sign of hope, a sign that one day this evil would be overcome.  At one point, this was declared illegal, just as illegal as carrying a gun.  The children used to joke about this, saying: “Our government is scared of lit candles!” Eventually, as we know, apartheid was overcome.  Reflecting upon what ultimately brought its demise it is fair to suggest that “lit candles” (which the government so wisely feared) were considerably more powerful than were guns.” 

I got up, went to the cupboard and got a candle which will sit in my window to symbolize my hope until I am no longer afraid, until all will again be welcomed to the US and I figure out how to more actively speak my mind for all to hear.

Light drives out darkness. Hope trumps hate. Will you join me?

We Will Rise

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On Sunday at Mass, our visiting priest from Tanzania told this story:

A farmer was given an egg. He didn’t know what kind of an egg it was so he put it with his chickens and waited to see what might happen.

The egg hatched. It was an eagle. But the eagle didn’t know he was an eagle, so he grew up as a chicken.

One day a wild eagle landed nearby and said “Friend, what are you doing among the chickens?” And the eagle said “I AM a chicken.” The wild eagle shook his head. “No, my friend. You are not a chicken. You are an eagle. You can fly. You can hunt. The world is yours.” But the eagle said “I have always been here, in this coop, eating corn and termites. I know nothing about those other things. I am a chicken.”

The wild eagle flew away. But the next day he came back. “You know what life is like as a chicken, cooped and corn and termites. Come with me for one week and see what life is like as an eagle.”

The eagle agreed to one week, and the two eagles flew away. For a week, the eagle flew as high as the heavens and saw all the world below him: mountains, oceans, prairies, lakes. He hunted fiercely and visited nests built in the tops of the tallest trees and clinging to the steepest cliffs. He saw all the vagaries of life and death, beauty and pain, courage and fear.

But at the end of the week, he went back to the chickens.

The wild eagle flew after him. “What are you doing?” he asked. “You’ve lived the life of an eagle! Why would you go back to the chickens in their coop, eating corn and termites and never having the chance to fly???”

And the eagle said “I like the chickens. I belong with the chickens. I am a chicken.”

The world calls us to be chickens, content in our cages, heads down, eating what we are fed.

But we are not chickens.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made. We are beloved children of God.

We are eagles.

They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength,
    they will soar on eagles’ wings;
They will run and not grow weary,
    walk and not grow faint.
Isaiah 40:31

Put the “Be Jesus” Back

Lenten reading can be hard on your soul.

It challenges and convicts. It parks your heart in the shadow of the Cross and makes you look up.

I have never been good at looking up. I don’t want to see. I tell myself it is enough to know.

Everything I read tells me that I’m wrong. My suffering has not been enough, although it has taught me so much about life and myself and fear and pain. It’s only the first step.

To truly walk where Jesus did, our suffering has to be used for someone else.

Which means I have to see. I have to look up from the foot of the cross and see.

I don’t want to read the Facebook post from my cousin’s friend who lost her six year old to cancer two years ago. On the second anniversary of her daughter’s death, she’s asking me to stand with her against pediatric cancer. I don’t want to see, because I have a sweet girl who was six two years ago. I don’t want to know that children we know get sick from cancer and die.

I want to look away and go about my business.

I don’t want to read the story about the woman in my state who tried to kill her newborn and toddler. I have to see that she is vilified in the media and the comments underneath the articles. I have to read until I see what my heart is already telling me, that she was sick, like I was sick. I don’t want to remember how that time felt to me. I don’t want to admit that she is me and I might have been her if we hadn’t made the right call, finally.

I want to look away and go about my business.

I don’t want to see pictures of drowned toddlers on the beaches in Greece, or news reports of the danger and squalor of refugee camps. I don’t want to know about the migrant camps in my own city. I don’t want to consider that in this day and age, families suffer while others turn them away. I’ll write a check or make a donation, but that’s as much as I feel I can handle. It’s a swamp of hopelessness.

I want to look away and go about my business.

But then I read this, in Richard Rohr’s Hope Against Darkness:

“When we’re not sure what is certain…we’re going to be anxious. We want to get rid of that anxiety as quickly as we can. Yet to be a good leader of anything today—to be a good pastor, a good bishop, or, I’m sure, a good father or mother—you have to be able to contain, to hold patiently a certain degree of anxiety.

(…)That’s probably why the Bible says so often ‘Do not be afraid.’”

This is me. I am not good—terrible, actually—at holding anxiety.  I do want to get rid of it as quickly as I can. I work hard to not invite it into my heart in the first place. My leadership skills are horribly limited by my anxieties. So I have convinced myself that I am safer occupying my space, and my space only. I busy myself with controlling the heck out of what I can control: my home, my family, my personal relationship with my church and my God.

Rohr says that “expelling what you can’t embrace gives you an identity, but it’s a negative identity. It’s not life energy, it’s death energy. Formulating what you are against gives you a very quick, clear and clean sense of yourself. Thus, most people fall for it. People more easily define themselves by what they are against, by who they hate, by who else is wrong, instead of by what they believe in and by whom they love.”

I’m convicted. In giving my anxieties primary place in my life—whether managing them, medicating them, avoiding them, expelling them—I have chosen not to see. If I don’t see, how can I help? Walk beside? Love?

Have I literally scared the “Be Jesus” out of myself?

There’s a reason this is in front of me now. I have no idea what it might be, but I’ll hold on patiently and wait for it. And while I do, I’ll work at replacing my fear with my faith.

Look up and see.

Hold the anxiety.

Be not afraid.

Put the “Be Jesus” back where it belongs.

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This popped up on Toby Mac’s Facebook feed as I was typing this post. Thanks to Mr. Hybels and Mr. Mac for the reminder!

 

For the Rookies, On the First Day of School 2014-2015

For the rookies in 2015-2016!

There's nothing better than brand new school supplies!

There’s nothing better than brand new school supplies!

At the very core of education, in your own classroom, there is nothing like the magic of educating kids. Nothing. You see moments in a kid’s life, flashes of brilliance and frustration; you hear them laugh, you see them cry. You are mom, friend, sister; you are at once the coolest cat and the biggest bitch; you will love them, and have days where you could climb a mountain; you will hate them and have days where you wish it was still legal to smack them.

You will love their parents. You will hate their parents. You will see some beautiful souls and some souls bound for the deepest parts of hell. You will hear stories that make you believe in the human spirit, and stories that give you nightmares. Students will lie to your face; parents will lie to your face. One day, a student will tell you a truth so terrible that you will wish they had lied. You will help them while your heart is breaking inside.

You will want to save them. Then you will learn that some kids are not meant to be saved by you. And you will cry.

You will know you are on the right track when the question of your reputation results in fierce debate between the kids who love you and the kids who hate you. Change is hard for teenagers, just like for grown ups. When you push them, they’ll push back. Stay strong. I once had a student named Jerome revise a paper 9 times to get a B and when he did, he hung that thing proudly on the fridge. And didn’t speak to me for two weeks.

I was so proud of him.

You will make mistakes. Tons. There’s no way to talk to 200 kids a day and not say something stupid on a fairly regular basis. When you do, just apologize. They will respect you forever because no one ever apologizes to teenagers. Let them learn from you that apologies don’t make you weak, they make you honorable.

The kids–they will strip you down and make you see who you really are. Then, if you let them, they will make you better, even the ones who make you crazy first.

Maybe them most of all.

So best of luck. You’ll need it between principals trying to make quotas and veteran teachers with an ax to grind and an entire political system that likes to demonize your profession. But it’s not cliche that you are in charge of the future so you have to find a way to manage. You’ll want to quit. All of us wanted to quit sometime in that first year, usually in January or February.

But hang on.  I promise that by May you will feel much better.

Slowing Wonder Woman Down

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My younger self would have seen this statement as a challenge and asked with a saucy smile, “Are you sure about that?”

This older and wiser version of me knows better and actually grieves the years I spent trying to be too many things to too many people. My mantra used to be “I got this” with little thought to whether I needed to have it or not.

I have learned to say no, or say nothing, which is maybe even more powerful.

Now, Worn-out Wonder Women make me nervous. I feel like a recovering junkie: If I get too close to their whirlwind lives, they will suck me back into the vortex of Being All Things to All People. The affirmation that comes from keeping friends, colleagues, bosses, families and spouses happy can be intoxicating.

But to paraphrase Emerson, it gives no peace. Wonder Women are running from or towards something, for sure. In my own case, I was trying to find something that I already had. But I was moving too fast to know or appreciate or enjoy it. Now I try really hard to be still and present, but I can only do that if I have time.

And I can only have time if I tell others No.

No to commitments that only serve me or my ambition

No to people who do not know or care about my family.

No to people or things that do not bear fruit.

I only owe one yes in my life, and that’s to God.

Lysa TerKuerst of Proverbs 31 Ministries has a new book out called The Best Yes, which is all about curing “the disease to please” and escaping “the guilt of disappointing others” that comes from saying no. Today and tomorrow, if you order one copy, you can get a second for just $5, plus a free audio download.

Check it out at www.thebestyes.com and learn more about Lysa and Proverbs 31 Ministry at www.proverbs31.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#BeReal

My brother has a theory about fear and politics.

He says that since the fall of the Soviet Union, we in the US do not have a common boogeyman. We used to fear and hate the Soviets, but during the 90s, the Wall came down and we lost our villain. So we turned on each other. Feminists, religious conservatives, homosexuals, immigrants, the poor, the rich—each took their turn on center stage as the new “boogeyman”. But the fear was never a consensus, so it drove us apart along political lines. When 9/11 happened, not even that united us for long—only long enough to dupe us all into one war we didn’t need to fight, driven by fear of what might happen.

Now we’re chewing on each other again and almost every single divisive political disagreement is grounded in fear. Gay marriage will ruin traditional marriage! Raising the minimum wage will tank the economy! The Hobby Lobby decision is the first step to women being required to wear burqahs!

Fear is everywhere.

Take the gun rights argument. You know Dana and I respect anyone’s right to hunt as long as they consume, and to own a firearm to protect their family.

We are not on board with high powered and semi- or automatic anything. We don’t see the point.

But folks will get all hot and bothered over their right to guns that have no other purpose than to turn  living things into a pile of ground meat. The anger is always laced with fear of what might happen. Like we might be invaded. Don’t ask by whom, no one knows. But we need to be ready.

I saw it with the border protests in town too. Lots of worry about disease. Horrible, awful, possibly incurable things like strep throat. Lice. Measles. People were whipped into a frenzy, one man yelling at the cameras that he had to protect the health of his kids, wife, parents.

No matter that there was an outbreak of measles in Temecula this winter, due to unvaccinated kids.

Maybe Guatemalan measles are deadlier?

That just might be true.

And then last week, the plane crash in Ukraine. I found out about it on Facebook, since we were on vacation. I read the article and then commented on the post: “Dude.” Which in Jen speak means “That is one f-ed up and sad situation.” To which the poster replied “So scary.”

Sad? Reprehensible? Immoral? Incredibly irresponsible and just plain STUPID?

Yes.

But scary?

We can take any situation at any time and twist it into a horror movie, but that doesn’t mean the horror movie will happen.

Of course, horror movie scenarios make money, for news stations and politicians. People we should be able to trust, people who say they stand for our good, are using fear of what might happen to boost ratings and win elections.

And we’re so used to it that we don’t even fight it anymore but let me tell you: this nation was not founded on fear. Good Lord, if the Puritans had stopped to think what might happen, they wouldn’t have gotten on the ship.

And the worst did happen, by the way, and they survived. That’s the blood that runs in our veins.

I’m done being scared. I want to live here, and now. I want to live in truth and light, not rumors and shadow. I am not talking about turning a blind eye to the state of the world and living in blissful ignorance. But I wish we could all stop looking at what might go wrong and start seeing what is going right.

We should find the courage to hold our leaders and media to this same standard. All we have to say is this:

We are not little children. We are God-loving folks and we are not scared of the dark. We work hard, we support each other and we deserve the truth. You think the truth is boring. You think we need a boogeyman. We have news for you: Main Street USA is about as real as it gets and our lives are not boring. They are beautiful and fruitful, even when they are hard.

That’s the truth.

So stop inventing ways to tell stories that try to make us feel like the world is blowing up and caving in on us all at once. Stop telling us about what might happen. Be real.

That’s our new hashtag: #BeReal. A challenge, a reminder and notice served that we aren’t buying fear for fear’s sake anymore.

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Heart Warrior ~ Guest Post by Shalimar Niles

You know when you meet someone and they radiate calm kindness and patience? The kind that actually calms your own heart just from being in their presence?

Meet our new friend Shalimar. She is one of Kate’s Girl Scout troop leaders and I was amazed by her before I heard the story she’s about to tell. We invited her here because this woman’s life is full of grace–grace given by God and then distributed outward in total love. She knows that God is not here to test us, but to see us through.

She was born on a Friday morning. 10 fingers, 10 toes, and a head full of hair. Her daddy followed her to the nursery, and I went to recovery and waited for someone to bring my baby in to me. No one came. For more than an hour I waited, when finally, my husband came in, empty-handed, to tell me.

Our daughter was 1 in 100. That’s the likelihood of having a baby born with a congenital heart defect, or CHD. The ultrasounds showed us a healthy baby girl, but she was born with a severe CHD called Pulmonary Atresia. We had no indication that anything was wrong, and yet, our newborn daughter was now in a race against time to fix her heart before she started running out of oxygenated blood.

Emma at one day old

Shalimar with Emma at two days old

Hours after she was born, she was transferred to a hospital that could give her the care she needed. My husband went with her, and so it happened, hours after giving birth, I was alone in my hospital room, in shock and recovering from a c-section.

I held her for the first time when she was two days old. At four days old we walked her to the operating room doors for her first catheter procedure, which was unsuccessful. At one week old, her due date, which also happened to be our wedding anniversary, she had another procedure, also ultimately unsuccessful. From that point on, she was intubated and sedated, her right leg was purple and had almost no pulse because of damage to the artery during her procedures. We were broken-hearted for our girl, anxious to get her well and terrified of how bleak things looked for her at the moment.

Prayers and support came pouring in from friends and strangers alike. Her story was shared and thousands of people were praying for her around the world. I, however, was not one of my daughter’s prayer warriors. I told a friend that I felt like a hypocrite for allowing, and even encouraging others to pray for her when I could barely speak to God. “This is the time to let us lift you up,” she said.

We call June 7th our daughter’s Happy Heart Day, because that’s the day that things started improving for her. She had open heart surgery, which was terrifying, but we had the hope that things would be better on the other side. The texts, phone calls, and Facebook messages were incredible, and did give us strength through those awful hours. All those people kept me close to God when I couldn’t do it myself, and they all have been able to witness the miracle that is our daughter.

Emma after her surgery

Emma after her surgery

She came home just a week after her surgery. On medications, and 24 hour oxygen, but she was home. And the medical miracles kept coming. Just a couple weeks after surgery, I started nursing her (which for being on a feeding tube for most of her life was amazing) and she began to thrive. She gained weight, she went on to oxygen just for sleeping and by the time she was three months old she was off all meds and supplemental oxygen. At 10 months old, she had a hole between the chambers of her heart closed, which improved her health even more. By looking at her, you would never know the challenges she has had to face in her young life.

I think the real miracles have been the intangibles. After being sedated and lacking oxygen her first month of life, she opened her eyes for the first time after her surgery and she was there. In the sense that I knew our worries about any brain damage were answered. She was delayed in rolling, crawling, and walking, and you could see the determination and grit in her face as she struggled in physical therapy to meet those goals. She is quite simply, a force of nature. Our daily reminder that miracles do happen, that God is with us even through the storm, and that hope we have in Him is real.

I live in a constant state of gratitude. I quite literally thank God daily that He saw fit to let us keep that sweet baby girl, who just turned two years old. A CHD is never truly cured, she does have more surgeries and challenges to face, and that is not what I dreamed of for my child. But as she healed, so did we, and I am certain that our strong family foundation, built of love and strength and faith will carry us through whatever may come.

Emma turns 2!

Emma turns 2!

 

 Tomorrow, Emma’s family and friends will wear pink to celebrate the anniversary of her surgery.

Happy Heart Day to Emma from all of us at Full of Graces!